|Those who have followed Lawrie Hodges’ tales
where the RPs get the upper hand will be glad to know that it
was not always one way traffic. I once had the great joy of getting
the Provost Sergeant “on the rack” in front of his
RPs. and his victim.
While not perhaps a unique occurrence, it was certainly unusual,
certainly in a peacetime infantry battalion, for a 19 year old
subaltern a mere five months after commissioning, to be not
only acting Company Commander but also having to take Company
Orders and sit in the judgement seat. This came about when the
2nd battalion, Durham Light Infantry returned from Germany to
the Depot at Brancepeth to go into “suspended animation”
which, for all practical purposes meant disbanding and all the
personnel dispersing, some to 1/DLI others to other regiments
and ERE jobs, after a ceremonial farewell parade through Durham.
Although tinged with a certain amount of sadness, there was
also a sort of “end-of-term” atmosphere about the
battalion. Some of the Depot permanent staff, however, were
not too happy with the disruption to their well ordered and
smooth running little empire by this somewhat carefree invasion,
particularly as there was not as much deference shown to them
as by the recruits in training.
But first the battalion had a week of Disembarkation Leave.
All that is except a small skeleton crew. In A Company this
consisted of a sergeant and enough junior ranks for essential
fatigues, fire pickets and so on as well, of course, as a clerk
to keep the paperwork moving and me, the most junior officer.
My day consisted of a pleasant walk to the Camp from the Castle
after a leisurely breakfast, signing with a flourish “2nd
Lieut., Acting Company Commander” any bumf the clerk produced,
reading the paper and so on. One morning I was greeted by the
acting CSM with “Legionnaire has got himself arrested
so you will have to take Orders, the Depot RPs are bringing
him over”. A perusal of the “AF 252” (charge
sheet for those who have forgotten or never got on one!) with
eight separate charges gave a pretty good summary of what had
happened the previous afternoon. Private E----e, always known
as Legionnaire, with time on his hands had gone for a stroll.
Unfortunately he was casually dressed in PT vest, denim trousers,
gym shoes and no beret. Had he stayed in the Company or even
the Battalion lines all would have been well but wandering past
the Depot Guardroom was probably unwise as it gave the Depot
RPs the chance they had been waiting for to score one against
the Battalion. Charge 1 was being improperly dressed and one
thing had obviously led to another with Legionnaire being subsequently
arrested and put in the cells. Hence charges 2 to 7 which included
Resisting Arrest and Striking a Non Commissioned Officer. All
this suggested a classic case of ‘throwing the book’.
Sharp at 10.30 I was seated behind the table trying to look
both solemn and important when crash, bang “Prisner’nescort
quick march, mark time, halt” and the room was quickly
filled by the Depot Provost Sergeant, several burly RPs with
E----e sandwiched between them. Off we went with charge 1 “Lance
Corporal xxxx?” “Sir, he was improperly dressed,
Sir” and so on, although the thought of the small E----e
taking on the RPs and “Striking an NCO” was pretty
rich as he would have bounced off them! However it was a serious
charge and he had undoubtedly taken a swing at them so there
was really no alternative, bearing in mind that in my rank all
I could do was admonish or a maximum of three days ‘jankers’,
to remand to the Commanding Officer, being sure that Col. Leather
would be pretty lenient, given the circumstances and with me
to give a bit of support, and would be in a far better position
to square up the RPs. for going over the top.
But before that we had to deal with charge 8 and this was when
I realised that they really were pushing it and, when I read
it out and spotted the RPs trying hard not to grin, I realised
my moment had come to strike back and at least discomfort the
Depot Provost Sergeant.
“Using obscene language – Charging officer Sergeant
“Sir. He used obscene language, Sir”
“What did he say?” Stifled smirks from his staff.
“He used obscene language, Sir” By this time reddening
up and looking extremely uncomfortable so I knew I had got him.
“So you keep saying. What exactly did he say or I shall
dismiss the charge?” A long embarrassed silence and open
grinning by the other witnesses, this was going to be good,
“He called me a f-----g c---t.” Delivered dead pan
staring at a spot on the wall behind me about two feet above
This was my turn to suppress a grin and resist the urge to agree
with the accused’s assessment of the PS. Without daring
to look at the CSM as we would both have cracked up, I stared
hard at the charge sheet and weakly said “Remanded to
the Commanding Officer”
That was the first and last time I have ever been called on
to sit in judgement of my fellow men, although I did on one
occasion have to go to Durham Assizes to give a (military) character
reference for a recruit who was appearing on a charge of fraud
committed before he had been called up. Also to a Court Martial
to give a character reference for the cook sergeant and, on
reflection, I doubt many National Servicemen ever got to see
the inside of a Court Martial so that was another rare experience.